Tennis roundup: Azarenka, Li in Sydney finale

Victoria Azarenka reacts after winning a point against Agnieszka Radwanska during their semifinal...

Victoria Azarenka reacts after winning a point against Agnieszka Radwanska during their semifinal at the Sydney International on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Daniel Munoz)

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, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

SYDNEY - Third-seeded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and reigning champion Li Na will clash in Friday's final at the $637,000 Sydney International tennis tournament, a final Australian Open tuneup.

The fourth-seeded Li prevented second-seeded Petra Kvitova from reaching No. 1 this week, as the Chinese slugger continued her winning ways at this tournament with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 semifinal victory on Day 5 at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre.

Li converted on 4-of-6 break-point chances, while saving 10-of-14 break opportunities for Kvitova, who could have overtaken Caroline Wozniacki as the top player in the world with a title here.

The 29-year-old Li appears to be relocating her game, which fell on hard times after she reached last year's Aussie Open final and captured her first-ever major title at the French Open.

"I'm back and I am feeling stronger, not only in my body but also in my mind," Li said. "It was a big win for me today against Petra, especially after she won Istanbul (the WTA Championships) and the Hopman Cup."

The other combatant in Friday's title match will be the talented Azarenka, who came from behind to beat seventh-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Li is 4-2 lifetime against Azarenka, including a 2-1 mark last season. The Chinese star topped the Belarusian slugger in the fourth round at last year's Aussie Open, but Azarenka won their last meeting, in straight sets at the season-ending WTA Championships.

The 22-year-old Azarenka will appear in her 17th career final, seeking a ninth title. She captured three championships in 2011.

Li is 5-5 in her career finals, including a 2-1 mark last season.

The 2012 Sydney champion will pocket $107,000. The draw here featured nine of the top-10 women in the world.

Baghdatis ousts del Potro

SYDNEY - Former Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis bounced top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets in Thursday's quarterfinals at the $434,250 Sydney International tennis event, a final Aussie Open tuneup.

The unseeded Baghdatis, who titled here in Sydney two years ago, surprised the former U.S.Open champion del Potro in 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 fashion on the hardcourts at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Baghdatis fired up 12 aces and broke del Potro's serve twice, while the big world No. 11 Argentine settled for seven aces and only one break.

Baghdatis' semifinal opponent on Friday will be Frenchman Julien Benneteau, who cruised past Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-2, 6-4.

Another seed exited the draw on Day 4, as Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin drove out No. 3 Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), as there are no seeds left heading into the final four.

Istomin will face Finnish veteran and fellow qualifier Jarkko Nieminen on Friday after Nieminen leveled American qualifier Bobby Reynolds, 6-3, 6-3.

The newest Sydney champion will earn $78,360.

Almagro loses in rainy Auckland

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Second-seeded Nicolas Almagro was a quarterfinal upset victim before rain halted play Thursday at the Heineken Open, a final hardcourt Australian Open tuneup.

Eighth-seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber took out the Spanish Almagro 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 at ASB Tennis Centre, where rain prevented a pair of quarterfinals from being completed on Day 4.

One other result saw pesky Belgian Olivier Rochus outlast French qualifier Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4). Rochus will meet the 2008 Auckland champion Kohlschreiber in a semifinal here on Friday.

Third-seeded Fernando Verdasco was leading fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia- Lopez 3-1 in the opening set when play was called because of wet weather, and a match between top-seeded and defending champion David Ferrer of Spain and Colombian Alejandro Falla was postponed altogether.

The Ferrer-Falla winner will meet the Verdasco-Garcia-Lopez victor in the other semi.

The two-time Auckland champion Ferrer bested Argentine star David Nalbandian in last year's Auckland finale.

The 2012 Auckland champion will collect $71,900.

Wickmayer easy winner in Hobart

HOBART, Australia - Top-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer was an easy winner, while defending champion Jarmila Gajdosova was upended in the quarterfinals Thursday at the $220,000 Moorilla Hobart International tennis event.

Wickmayer cruised past Romania's Simona Halep 6-4, 6-0 in a match that lasted less than an hour on the hardcourts at Domain Tennis Centre.

Up next for Wickmayer will be sixth-seeded Israeli Shahar Peer, who was leading former top-10 star Anna Chakvetadze 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 when the Russian retired. Chakvetadze titled here in 2007. Peer was the Hobart runner-up two years ago.

The fifth-seeded Aussie Gajdosova rolled through the first set against German qualifier Mona Barthel before dropping the final two on the way to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat. Barthel recorded eight aces to punch her ticket to the semifinals, where she'll face fourth-seeded fellow German Angelique Kerber.

Gajdosova beat American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in last year's Hobart finale.

Kerber outlasted Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-0, 3-6, 7-5, converting 6-of-13 break-point opportunities.

The winner of this final Australian Open tuneup will earn $37,000.

Tsonga pulls out of Kooyong Classic

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - After two rain-interrupted defeats, Frenchman Jo Wilfried-Tsonga has thrown in the towel at the invitational Kooyong Classic in Melbourne, citing exhaustion and the need to rest ahead of the Australian Open.

The world number six, who complained of jet-lag after slumping to a straight-sets loss to Austria's Jurgen Melzer in the first round, was beaten by Japan's Kei Nishikori 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Thursday and has elected not to play his third and final match, tournament director Colin Stubs told Reuters.

"He's a bit jet-lagged and he just felt like 'if I'm going to give myself half a chance I've got to have a day off.' It's not an injury per se," Stubs said.

Tsonga arrived in Melbourne this week after a long-haul flight from the Middle East where he won the Qatar Open following his appearance at an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

His withdrawal followed Canadian Milos Raonic's pull-out from the eight-man field at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club on Wednesday after his first-round defeat to Mardy Fish.

Raonic, who won the Chennai Open on Sunday, withdrew citing a stomach bug.

Organizers were forced to scramble to find replacements to pad out the draw, with American Sam Querrey and Serbia's Viktor Troicki drafted in to play each other in an exhibition match on Friday.

"You live to fight another day," Stubs said of Tsonga's exit. "If I cracked it with everyone who did that to me, I wouldn't have an event."

American world number eight Mardy Fish will play Melzer for a place in Saturday's final against Australian teenager Bernard Tomic who ground down 15th-ranked Frenchman Gael Monfils in three sets on Thursday.

Andy Murray will also make an appearance at the warm-up tournament on Friday, playing a one-off exhibition match against Argentine veteran David Nalbandian as he seeks a last competitive hit-out before the year's first grand slam.

The Kooyong Classic guarantees players three matches on the same court surface used at Melbourne Park.


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